a knitting lesson from the sand mandala

Creation and destruction, there are lessons in both.

Creation and destruction, there are lessons in both.

Attachment and Knitting

I'll admit, I get pretty attached to my knitting projects. I don't mean to, honestly, but I do. My attachment may stem from the countless hours I spend creating, or the feelings of delight and satisfaction I get from making things. Either way, it doesn't make for a very objective mind when facing a challenge. 

Last week I had a minor knitting calamity. The story went something like this: I had chosen to knit a shawl with a beautiful lace pattern. It was all going swimmingly until I got to the lace rows. Firstly, I didn't know if I was doing the stitches properly - there were a lot of yarn over's, increases and decreases. I kept losing count of what stitch I was on, and since many of the stitches were new to me, I couldn't count back to any recognizable stitch. So I just kept going.

By the end of the second lace row, I was already off pattern (I was probably off by the end of the first lace row, but didn't know enough to know I was off). I wasn't sure how big of a deal it was to be off pattern, so I went ahead and knit the third lace row (hey, sometimes you can hide mistakes!). I was off again. At this point, I stopped to collect my thoughts. I was faced with two options - full steam ahead, hoping to 'make right' the pattern at some point soon; or frog (rip it out). 

I took the issue to Instagram and asked for advice. Friends said to rip it. (Easy for them to say!) I was hoping they'd encourage me to keep going, as I desperately wanted to. There were hundreds of amazing stitches before the messed up rows - and they took many hours to complete. I just couldn't fathom deconstructing my hard work - who does that, anyway?!

That's when my inner Buddha chimed in. My attachment to the work was clouding my objectivity. 'Look to the lesson of the sand mandala,' my inner Buddha said.

Do you know the lesson of the sand mandala? I learned it quite some time ago. It's sometimes difficult to embrace, but it's said to be freeing in the end. 

The Lesson of the Sand Mandala

See that beautifully colorful circular artwork in the pic above? That's a mandala (the Shri Kalachakra mandala, to be precise). Picture that made out of millions of grains of colorful sand and about four feet in diameter, crafted by a handful of Tibetan monks over a span of several days. Sound beautiful? It is. I once witnessed a sand mandala being created. It's silent, almost breathless, hard work. 

The sand mandala lesson is not found within the mandala's creation. Sure, the experience is sacred, meditative, captivating, and awe-inspiring. But it's not until shortly after the last grain of sand is ushered delicately into place, that the lesson becomes clear. You see, once the mandala is complete, the monks begin sweeping it away. The lesson comes from the deconstruction.

Sand mandalas represent impermanence, a core teaching in Buddhism. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Because nothing is permanent, becoming attached to anything creates suffering. In this light, becoming attached to the mandala - it's beauty and the effort it took to create it - creates suffering. The deconstruction of the mandala teaches impermanence, frees one from attachment,  and reduces suffering in the process. 

And this is what my inner Buddha wanted me to remember. That, despite hard work and regardless of the beauty of creation, to be free from suffering, one must practice non-attachment. So I frogged the shawl. 

Frogging in knitting got it's name from the act of ripping: 'rip it, rip it' sounds like 'ribbit, ribbit.'

Frogging in knitting got it's name from the act of ripping: 'rip it, rip it' sounds like 'ribbit, ribbit.'

Remember the part where I said that the lesson of the sand mandala was said to be freeing? It's true. I frogged with fervor! I recognized the impermanence of my work, I became unattached to the time I spend in its creation, and I found freedom to rip it out! I will take to the needles and start the shawl again, but I'll do so with different eyes. I will still recognize the beauty, fun, and accomplishment in creation, but I can also appreciate the freedom from attachment that comes from deconstruction. You know, in case I ever make a mistake again. 

Happy creating, all. And happy frogging too.

Half Frog pose (ardha bhekasana) and frogged knitting.

Half Frog pose (ardha bhekasana) and frogged knitting.